Attitudes slowly changing as awareness of mental health issues increases
May will be observed as Mental Health Month, and the theme for this year’s observance reflects changing attitudes. The theme is “It’s OK to Talk: Mental Health Matters in Kansas City.” Yes, attitudes are changing and mental problems are not regarded as a stigma but rather an illness and should be treated as such. Despite change, there is a long way to go when it comes to understanding mental health.
I think the definition given by the World Health Organization sums up the issue: “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can deal with normal stresses of life, can work productively, and makes a contribution to his or her community. In a positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community.”
I was really surprised by the statistics showing how many Americans are touched by mental health problems. I didn’t realize that one in four Americans may face a mental health disorder. Sadly much of the time these problems go untreated. A study by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City estimates the economic toll of untreated mental illness in Kansas is $1.17 billion. Wyandotte County absorbs about $64 million of that cost. Make no mistake, governmental budget cutting will add to the economic cost, not to mention the harm to persons. Over 500 people committed suicide in 2012, the most recent figures reported. What is even worse is that total represents a 30 percent increase from the previous year.
It isn’t just a problem for adults. The week of May 3-May 9 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. It is unfortunate that this is a problem that is often overlooked. For example, more than 60 percent of young people with depression are not helped. That statistic that is really shocking is that 75 to 80 percent of youth do not receive needed services.
We are fortunate in Wyandotte County that there are agencies that work extremely hard to reach out to those in need. The Wyandot Center serves adults by “providing a continuum of mental health services to enrich and strengthen the lives of Wyandotte County residents.” The agency offers outpatient therapy, psychosocial management, 24-hour crises hotline, operates a psychiatric services clinic, peer support groups, a center for persons who are homeless or in need of help just to name a few of the many services available. More information is available at wyandotcenter.org or by calling 913-328-4600.
About 4,000 unduplicated adult customers took advantage of the services last year. In addition, the PACE program’s mission is to “help kids, empower families, creating hope and transforming lives.” The agency serves troubled youth and last year provided services to about 3,500. Information is available at paceswc.org or by calling 913-563-6500.
To communicate with our area of the county there is a nine-member Mental Health Advisory Board with Rita Hoag, retired Bonner Springs city clerk, as chair. Lisa Terrell, counselor at the high school, is vice chair. Members represent the schools, churches, social service agencies and residents. The group meets regularly to discuss mental health issues and to hear reports about countywide programs.
“Mental health is an illness and should be treated as such. Individuals should not be embarrassed when they need help. It is just as much an illness as physical illness,” Hoag said.
She has been involved in the program since 1997 and praised the dedication of the staff and described them as “dedicated, passionate people who really care and want to help.”
You can help by advising anyone who might suffer from depression, substance abuse or any other problem to contact Wyandot Mental Health because help is available.